Shelley’s Art Musings – Cupid’s Lie – Damien Hirst
We all know the image of the chubby cherub. The one with the bow and arrow that can spark love in an instant. The image is used every February on cards that we send as a hallmark tradition to tell that special person that we love them more on that one day than any other, as usually you are probably having to pick up their sock from the bathroom floor, or wanting to smother them in their sleep because they are snoring.
When you first think of Damien Hirst, you probably think of a cow in formaldehyde. I will openly admit, I was not onboard with Hirst’s work, until I went to a very extensive exhibition of his at the Tate Modern in London, from then I became an instant fan. I could suddenly see the crossover of science and art which isn’t exactly apparent when you look at photographs of his work. His work is extremely detailed, often grotesque yet beautiful, and can be horrendously insightful.
See more on: Tate UK
Cupid’s Lie is a gold sculpture of the god of desire and affection. A disproportionate head to the child skeleton, fossilised wings and its hands in a gripped position. The skull is almost smiling in its final resting place.
But why the lie? Surely this little bundle of joy couldn’t be doing that much harm? This really comes down to theogenes point of view. To understand this, I think we need to take a look at the antics of Cupid (or Eros in Greek mythology if you would rather).
Cupid was the son of Venus and Mars. I tell you this rather dubiously as there is a possibility that he came about asexually, but the myths tend to waiver around his coming to existence, so let’s stick with this theory. The Goddess of love was obviously going to spawn a creation that would spread affection and desire and it seems very apt that his power comes from a weapon designed for long range attack, being his father was the god of war. This really just gives weight to love and hate being two sides of the same emotion, but that is another story.
Cupid was not always seen as a chubby kid with wings, images of Cupid throughout history showed a beautiful, lithe boy, who would enchant Psyche.
The reason that Cupid was winged, is because lovers are seen as flighty at the start of relationships, prone to changing their mind and can be irrational. The bow and arrow along with a torch his symbols, because love can wound and inflame the heart.
There are many stories of Cupid, his escapades with Bees, where he was stung as he steals honey from their hive. At this he goes crying to is mother Venus, exclaiming that something so small should not be able to cause so much pain. Venus simply laughed at this, explaining he was small and could cause a lot of pain, through the sting of love.
The most well known story though is that of Cupid and Psyche. Venus was not very happy that Psyche was growing in to a beautiful woman, with looks that could challenge her own. Venus sent Cupid to extract revenge on Psyche, but on seeing her Cupid fell under his own spell and arranges for her to be taken back to his palace. He would visit her nightly under the cover of darkness, but tells Psyche that she should never look upon him. Psyche tells this to her sister, who then convinces her that Cupid must be some kind of monster, and tells her to put a lamp in her room so that she can finally see him.
That night, on Cupid’s visit, as he sleeps next to her, she uses the lamp, astonished by his beauty, she drips oil on him and wakes him. He is so upset that she has not followed his wishes, that he abandons her, and poor Psyche walks the earth in search of him.
On her search she is captured by Venus, who tortures her, and then sends her on a series of quests, each time at the point of despair in trying to complete the impossible quests, Psyche is helped by divine intervention from an unknown source. The final task is to collect a dose of Proserpina’s beauty from the underworld. Psyche does manage to complete this, but on her travels back, cannot resist looking in the box, thinking that the dose of beauty may help her. This sends her into a coma like sleep. Cupid finds Psyche and revives her, by returning the box, and makes her immortal so that they can be wed as he could see her determination in trying to find him.
Sleeping Cupid’s image has been used to indicate lost or languishing love during the Renaissance period, so with Hirst showing the skeletal form of the being, could it be he is indicating that we are witnessing a void of love?
This is all very well and good I can hear you thinking, but this still doesn’t explain the lie. Come on Crankster, what is your theory. Well in the same respect that Cupid was a Roman god of desire and affection, he could also be seen as a demon of fornication. Cupid was reinterpreted by Theodulf of Orlean, to be a spiteful and malicious being that drove people to the vices of the underworld. His quiver was said to symbolise his depraved mind, and his bow trickery. His arrows poison and his torch the burning passions of illicit behaviour. This changes the stories of how we see the cheeky cherub, from bringing people together in moments of love, to the actions being sinful and looked down upon. Hence the lie.
Hirst created this sculpture in 2008, and I think it is amazingly detailed. Myth brought to life. A god remembered, cast in gold, forever captured, with a title that indicated the theologenes argument… God of Love or Demon of fornication. It’s a very clever and simple way of showing the discourse between beliefs of this little guy.
If you want to see more of Hirst’s work, you can find it here, although if there is ever an exhibition, I really urge you to go and see it as the pictures of the work do nothing for the actual pieces.
And.. If you want to see more of interesting Shelley’s Art Musings articles, you can “join” here.
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